Jobs

Consider an undergraduate summer research internship in government

Elizabeth Stivison
May 10, 2024

What should you do with your summers during college? It’s a question worth thinking about.

There’s something to be said for a lazy break spent savoring the long days and slow pace of the season. Or you could work a summer job, take a class, travel or stay on campus for a summer program at your college.

Another option for the life science–minded is a research internship.

If you’re at a college that that doesn’t have many lab opportunities on campus, a research internship could be a useful way to get a taste of lab work. One common way to get such experience is through a Research Experiences for Undergraduate, or REU, program at a research university.

This week though, I’m focusing on undergraduate internships at government agencies that do life science–related work. This can give a different perspective on research than purely academic labs.

Like so much in government, the information for these internships can be hard to find, unclear and full of outdated links, or links that send you on an endless loop among the same three pages.

So here’s a roundup of places to look for government internships, with descriptions that are up to date and links that (hopefully) still work.

The websites list many of these internships seasonally. If you check one of the pages and no opportunities are there, it may be after the deadline and applications have not yet opened up for the following year. Check back later, and you may see more options listed.

Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

ORISE might be the best place to start looking. While it’s headquartered in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, it is not directly associated with Oak Ridge National Labs or restricted to programs in Tennessee.

ORISE is a part of the Department of Energy, though it oversees programs for career development and training at virtually all science-related government institutions and all career stages. The ORISE fellowships site is a real treasure trove of fellowships and internships — if you can sort through it. In addition to those for undergrads, you might notice it has tons of fellowships for grad students, postdocs and beyond, so remember it for later in your career.

Check out the pages for ORISE-run programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense, among many other institutes and centers. Many of the internships posted on individual agency sites in the roundup below are administered through ORISE, and you’ll also find them on the ORISE site.

National Institutes of Health

The NIH has a full-time summer internship program for people enrolled in or about to start undergraduate, graduate or professional school. The program has a central application process, but applicants are selected by the PIs who will host the interns in their labs; this means you must reach out to individual PIs and find someone who will host you.

It’s worth looking into all the different NIH campuses and what they focus on as you decide who you want to work with.

Food and Drug Administration

The FDA has many programs, though not all those listed run every year or are open to undergraduates.

The National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas runs a 10-week summer research internship where FDA scientists mentor the interns. If your college is close to the FDA campus in Arkansas, you might also want to look into internships for undergraduates to work part-time during the year and full-time in the summer.

Bonus: The FDA’s oncology center of excellence hosts high school students for a summer scholars program in Maryland.

Centers for Disease Control

The CDC offers a range of internships, some run directly at the CDC in Atlanta and some with partners around the country.

The CDC and the FDA both participate in the Pathways program, which is designed to get people started in government career paths.

Department of Defense

The DoD has a range of summer internships for undergraduates that can be found here.

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Elizabeth Stivison

Elizabeth Stivison is a postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University studying inositol signaling and a careers columnist for ASBMB Today.

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